Md.'s Tubman wins ballot for place on $20 bill

Treasury Secretary could switch Tubman onto $20.

Voters have spoken, and Maryland's own Harriet Tubman,who led slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad, should replace President Andrew Jackson as the face of the $20 bill.

The organization Women on 20s conducted the online campaign to get a woman's face on paper money in time for the 2020 centennial of their right to vote. Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew can make the change on his own authority. President Barack Obama is on record as supporting a change, and there are bills in both houses of Congress that would establish committees to study such a change.

"I think it will happen, I really do," said the group's executive director, Susan Ades Stone. "There is a strong feeling that this is overdue. It is very hard to make an argument against it."

The group said Tubman, who was born a slave in Dorchester County about 1820, got 118,328 votes to 111,227 for Eleanor Roosevelt, 64,173 for Rosa Parks and 58,703 for Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee nation.

"I'm so proud to count Harriet Tubman among Maryland's many, many inspirational women," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement. "She showed courage, ingenuity, unselfishness, and incredible persistence in leading hundreds of men, women and children out of the bondage of slavery and into freedom. Seeing her face on the $20 bill will lend us all courage to face the challenges of today and hope for the future."

More than 600,000 took part in two rounds of voting, the group said. The finalists were among 15 women nominated to be the first to grace paper currency, including conservationist Rachel Carson, nurse Clara Barton, birth control advocate Margaret Sanger and feminist Betty Friedan. The images of Susan B. Anthony and Lewis and Clark guide Sacagawea are on coins.

The results have been sent to the White House, where the Council on Women and Girls, headed by Obama administration adviser Valerie Jarrett, has already responded, thanking Women on 20s for their "incredible work" and suggesting a meeting.

In a speech in July, Obama made reference to a letter from a 9-year-old named Sofia who had written asking why there were no women's faces on U.S. currency. "I thought [it] was a pretty good idea," said the president, who said the girl had included a list of suggestions.

The last time the Treasury replaced a figure on a bill was in 1928, when Jackson took the place of President Grover Cleveland. It isn't clear to scholars or historians why the change was made, but Jackson is objectionable to some because he owned slaves and forced the relocation of Native Americans under the Indian Removal Act, a migration known as the Trail of Tears.

"If we were designing our currency from scratch today," said Stone, "it would not be all white men."

She said the largest voting bloc was 24- to 35-year-olds.

"Young people want our symbols to change and to represent them," said Stone, a veteran New York City journalist, who ran the campaign with Barbara Ortiz Howard, a New York businesswoman. Their children have been friends since kindergarten.

Stone credited schoolchildren and college students with the voting's huge numbers. Photos of their school projects and their letters and paper ballots have been forwarded to the White House, she said.

Baltimore's City Council was one of hundreds of municipal governments that passed resolutions encouraging schools to participate, and many did, creating lessons about women in American history.

Councilman James B. Kraft urged residents to vote for Tubman and said he was very excited by the result. "Harriet Tubman is such a natural candidate for this city," said the District 1 Democrat. "A woman of color and a freedom fighter. Now the challenge will be to get the powers that be to make the change."

"This is such a nice thing to happen in Baltimore," said Stone. "[Tubman] is one of their own community. It is a dark moment, and they have shined a light."

The voting began March 1, to coincide with Women's History Month, and immediately went viral. Every major news organization ran stories, and the campaign showed up on talk radio, blogs, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

"I knew we would get that kind of participation," said Stone. "Every time I mentioned that we were going to have this online referendum, I got the same reaction. 'Wow, that's so much fun.' Everybody wanted to be part of it."

Tubman was born to slaves, probably on a plantation near the Blackwater River in Madison. She escaped and made about 13 missions to rescue about 70 family members and friends, using a network of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, she was a spy and a nurse for the Union army.

Stone called paper currency "pocket monuments" to great figures in American history. The campaign, she said, has begun a huge conversation.

"There is a huge untapped reservoir of interest in women's history. There's no limit to what you could do with that."

sreimer@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SusanReimer

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